Doing one thing at a time works wonders

Tony Schwartz, writing at the Harvard Business Review blog, warns of the dangers of splitting your attention between competing tasks. He says digital devices with always-on connections train us to split attention between many tasks without every really focusing on any one.

Schwartz says this hurts productivity increasing the time to finish a task by 25%.

Not surprisingly, he titled his post: The magic of doing one thing at a time. Among other things he recommends setting aside periods of time for what he called “absorbed focus”.

I’d call this “concentration”. It is an old-fashioned idea, but I find I work best when I eliminate all distractions and work methodically on a single job. Almost all my work involves writing, so this means finding a laser-like focus. That’s easy to say, but hard to do.

Recently, I found myself in town between appointments. The company where I had my first call offered me the use of a quiet business lounge where I could use my iPad and wireless keyboard to catch-up with an important writing job.

The iPad is ideal for this kind of work because, although it can task switch, it focuses on a single application. In this case my single application was iA Writer. I hunkered down, read through my notes and began writing.

Ninety minutes later I looked up. The time has passed almost without my noticing it. I had written the best part of a major magazine feature without speaking to another human, without answering a phone, checking email or messages. I achieved a Zen-like flow.

The self-imposed limitations made me more productive.

There’s another interesting take on The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time at the Knowledge Jolt blog where Jack Vinson shares his tips on how to set aside blocks of time for intense focus.